Forgiveness: Pay It Forward

Today’s reading

Exodus 11-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Selected verses

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.  Exodus 12:1-2

And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:33-35

Reflections

God created time.  He also instructed His people to observe certain periodic days to remember important events and the theological truths connected with those events.  The Passover was one of those events.  God commanded that it be observed annually and that it coincide with the New Year.

The Passover definitively set apart the Israelites from the Egyptians.  The blood of unblemished lambs marked the homes of those who believed and distinguished them from those who did not.  The blood protected the inhabitants of those homes from death. The lamb paid the price and the people were saved.

Christ, too, paid the price as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, our Passover lamb (John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7).  Just as the ancient Israelites celebrated their deliverance from slavery by an annual Passover celebration, we as God’s people today celebrate corporately, by the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Communion.  We are remembering the fulfillment of a greater Lamb whose offering made a once-for-all atonement for sin.

Think about it

Imagine being in an Israelite home in Egypt on the night of the Passover.  You have placed the blood of a lamb on the doorposts.  You wait inside trusting that the blood will protect your firstborn son from the angel of death.  What relief when the angel passes over your house and you are safe.  That is a graphic picture of what God has done for us who trust in the Lamb of God to take away our sins and deliver us from deserved death. Will we not forgive as we have been forgiven?   Paul admonished  the Christians in Ephesus:  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:32

The deliverance and forgiveness which Jesus Christ obtained for us ought to be manifested in lives of forgiveness towards others.  Be vigilant to show grace and mercy toward those who owe you, not as the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable.

Equality and Inequality in God’s Economy

Today’s reading: Joshua 13:1-15:63

While today’s reading includes long lists of geographical locations and the territorial allotments given to various tribes, there is an important spiritual lesson to be learned here. Don’t miss it!

Comparing ourselves to others (what we are, what we have) will inevitably result in either envy or pride. Envy and pride are enemies which destroy our ability to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives – to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Resist the temptation to compare yourself, your accomplishments, your possessions with others. Instead, focus your whole being on His glory.

[For more reflections on this passage see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Covering for Sin

Today’s reading: Genesis 9:18-12:9

Now we come to the incident of Noah’s drunkenness and his sons’ reactions to it.  Here is a poignant lesson in our need and our responsibility. We need mercy and covering for our sin.  We are responsible  to show mercy to others and minimize their sin and failures. I find this challenging, but, by God’s grace, I want to be faithful as I have opportunity to apply this truth.

From Noah the lineage is carefully traced from his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Following Shem’s descendants we come to one Terah and his son Abram, (later to be called Abraham.).  We learn that God called  Abram with these words:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3

This is one of the pivotal passages in all the Bible and we will refer to it again in the course of our reading. God called a pagan man and made a covenant with him. The rest of the Old Testament records the unfolding of that covenant.

Meanwhile, look out for the sinner who has fallen drunk and naked in the way. He (or she) needs covering.

NOTE: Your thoughtful comments and respectful criticisms are welcome below. Please allow a day or two for approval to see your reply on line.

[For more reflections on today’s passage see the January 4 reading in Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days]

 

A Time to Love; a Time to Hate

To hate what God hates is good, but not if we do not love what God loves.

Today’s reading: Hosea 9-11; Revelation 2

8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.                                                     Hosea 11:8-9

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.                                                                                         Revelation 2:4-6

God’s love for His people is relentless, though He reveals in His Word how His heart recoils with the sinfulness of His people. Ultimately, God restrains His justice against His people and does not destroy them.

Hosea was sent to warn Judah and Israel of her impending judgment. This intervention by the Lord was another act of His patience and mercy. He gave them a chance to repent. He showed them through the sad, painful marital relationship of Hosea and Gomer, how God saw the unfaithfulness of His people toward Him. They repaid His goodness and blessing with idolatry and worship of false gods. Even after all that, God’s compassion toward them was aroused. As He said through the prophet Ezekiel, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” ( Ezekiel 18:23).

The Lord gave the Apostle John messages for seven churches of Asia Minor. Most of them contain warnings of impending judgment for their sin. In the letter to the church in Ephesus, He commends them for several qualities including their hatred of an heretical group called the Nicolaitans. While it was good to hate evil, they were also found to have abandoned the love they had shown earlier. Jesus tells them to repent of this attitude lest they lose their standing as a church completely.

Let this be a warning to us as well. Do not let hatred of evil drive out the love of God for those He is graciously calling to Himself. There is a time to love and a time to hate. (Ecclesiastes 3:8).

 

Don’t Put Out the Fire

Beware, Christians, we can act in ways that seriously jeopardize our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 62-64; 1 Thessalonians 5

10 But they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
and himself fought against them. Isaiah 63:10

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:19

Need we be concerned about our responses to the Holy Spirit? Is there a danger we will in some way offend, resist, grieve, or quench the Spirit of God? Are we not secure in our relationship to God through faith in Christ? Could we, Christians, act in ways that seriously jeopardize that relationship? Both Isaiah and Paul tell us the answer is “yes”!

Isaiah described the attitudes of Israel as those of rebellious children, laden with iniquity, despisers of the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 1:2-4). God’s people will go into captivity because they have turned the Lord against them through their rebellion and grieving of His Holy Spirit.

Paul commended the Thessalonians as those who “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Certainly, they had been born again and delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Nevertheless, Paul was concerned about their spiritual well-being and, now, in his concluding words, he charges them not to quench the Spirit. He would not be saying this unless there were a danger that they could actually do it. He gives them several instructions as to their relationships with their leaders, their brothers who may be struggling, and their enemies. He tells them to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks. Then he adds, “Do not quench the Spirit.” He warns them about two wrong responses to prophecies: despising them and believing them without testing them. He urges them to hold fast what is good and reject all evil.

Yes, we are secure in our relationship to God through faith in Jesus Christ, but the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity.  Our relationship to God is no different from our relationship to the Son and the Spirit.  Salvation is worked out in obedience (Philippians 2:12,13).  Where salvation through faith exists, there will be obedience and, as needed, prompt confession and  repentance for disobedience.

The Holy Spirit has been identified with fire (Luke 3:16; Acts 2:1-4). Paul is warning his readers about the danger of pouring water on the fire of the Holy Spirit in their lives through ungodly attitudes toward others, selfish living, prayerlessness, and other evils. The Spirit of God is Holy and never leads us into such behaviors. Today, be led by the Spirit. Beware of quenching or grieving Him.

 

The God of Peace and the Peace of God

In the best human relationships, there are moments of deep disappointment, alienation, pride, and disagreement, but the God of love and peace is glorified when these are overcome and restoration occurs.

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 4-5; 2 Corinthians 13

6 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.                                              Song of Solomon 5:6

11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Romantic love has its ups and downs, and Solomon paints that picture in his Song. Anyone who has ever been in love can relate to this: the exhilaration of the first glimpse of the one who steals your heart completely (4:9) and the agony of possible loss of that relationship forever (5:6). We feel this is a risk worth taking, because God said on the sixth day of creation, “It is not good that the man should be alone;” (Genesis 2:18a). So, most of us pursue a lifelong, loving relationship with a mate. Alas, it can be elusive.  When found, it is never without difficulties and setbacks. But it is pleasing to the God of love to find it, and to nurture it.

In the church, Christians are called to live in love demonstrating true discipleship through a level of sacrificial love faintly reflecting that of Jesus Christ (John 13:34, 35). The Corinthian church of Paul’s day had plenty of challenges. They were divided. They were drawn away from the true faith by “super apostles”. They were tolerant of gross sin in their midst. All this was lamentable, but not fatal, to the fellowship. Paul has instructed them in the two letters, which we still have, as to how to overcome these problems and be restored to a life of peace together. This is what God calls them to.

All of us, believers, need one another in the context of the local church. We are called out to be His body and to work together for His glory. He is not glorified when sin is overlooked and tolerated and when there is division and competition that negates the message of reconciliation with God. That reconciliation with Him is the foundation for our reconciliation with one another. For us who are married in Christ, we also are called to model, on a human level, the relationship of Christ and His Church. The same commands and promises Paul gave the church in Corinth apply to us who are married. Seek to be such that the God of peace and the peace of God are always with you.

Peace and Purity in the Church

Today’s reading: Psalm 120-123; I Corinthians 6

Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!                                                       Psalm 120:6-7

To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!                                                                                        I Corinthians 6:7-8

Christians are called to be committed to the peace and purity of the church.[1] There ought never be occasions when professing believers war against and defraud one another.

Psalm 120 introduces the section of fifteen psalms known as “The Songs of Ascents,” traditionally believed to be songs sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts. It is easy to see in these psalms the longing to be in Jerusalem and in the temple where the Lord’s presence was most keenly felt.

In this case the psalmist is weary of dealing with liars and deceivers. The locations of Meshech and Kedar may be mentioned to epitomize Gentile locales where one would expect to find liars and deceivers and a total disregard for the fear of God. It seems that the world’s culture had moved into Israel.

Paul found a similar situation in Corinth where the members of the congregation were going to secular courts with complaints against one another. The Apostle is horrified by the thought of this kind of hostility in the church. He tells them there is no place for this among God’s people, who should be willing to suffer wrong and be defrauded before going to a pagan court against a brother.

Sadly, these things continue to exist. Despite church members taking vows to “study the peace and purity of the church,” we hear of lawsuits, divorces with no biblical foundation, and other shameful behaviors taking place. Seek to be a force in your local church for peace and purity that God may be glorified.

[1] For example, one of the five questions asked of new members in the Presbyterian Church of America is “Do you submit yourselves to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?” Book of Church Order Ch. 57 Section 5.

Keeping Your Soul

Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 3-4; Mark 11:20-33

9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— Deuteronomy 4:9

25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25

Moses, in his final instructions to the Israelites, reminded them of God’s great power and deliverance on their behalf, beginning in Egypt right up to the end of Moses’ life on the threshold of the Promised Land. He warned them to keep their souls diligently, not forgetting all that God had done for them. They were told to pass these lessons on to their children and grandchildren. This was no idle command because their faithfulness to the Lord would be tested soon and often.

In Jesus’ instructions to His disciples near the end of His earthly life and ministry, He told them to take care of resolving interpersonal conflicts, even interrupting their prayer to forgive, lest God not hear their requests for forgiveness.

Here are two ways God’s people in all ages need to keep their souls diligently. One, we need to remember God’s power which He has used for us for good every day in countless ways, but can be used against us for discipline when we forget Him and follow after other gods. Two, we need to beware of the danger of holding grudges against others for real or imagined offenses when we need God’s mercy and forgiveness continually no less than they.

Keep your soul diligently. Remember God’s power. Remember God’s mercy. Trust Him. Be merciful.